Think your little one has fun in her play kitchen
? Try the real thing! The kitchen is such a great place for kids to be. The next time you are whipping up something to eat, consider inviting your preschooler to join in. You'll get some great quality time with your little one and they'll be learning skills that they'll be able to call on later in life. Here's how to get kids cooking (and why it's so important).
Time Required: Throughout their childhood
- Make a Game of It With younger preschoolers, pull out a couple of staple ingredients such as chicken, cheese, tomato sauce and ask your child what he thinks the two of you could make with them. For older kids, ask them to name the food items they would like to mix together to make something with (within reason). Together, browse cookbooks and see if you can find something appropriate.
- Try an Old Favorite... Does your child have a favorite recipe? Make it together! Then for your next cooking session, make your favorite dish. After that, you can make meals for everyone in your family. Take requests!
- ...and Then Something New Have you ever made enchiladas? What about crepes? Find a kid-friendly recipe for something neither one of you has ever tried and see how it turns out. Cooking international food is a great way to expose your little one to new cultures while encouraging them to try a dish they've never tasted before.
- Try a Theme From appetizers and dessert to the main course and table decor, choose a topic and follow all the way through. In our house, "Taco Tuesday" means tacos with all the trimmings, a sombrero as a centerpiece and even some flan for dessert. You can do Pasta Night or even a Luau. Let your child help prepare the meal, set the table and even make placemats or placecards.
- Have Specific Jobs in Mind for your Child Chances are, if you ask your preschooler to join you in the kitchen, she's going to be excited and is going to want to help you do everything. Before you start, have a list in mind of jobs that she can do. Good options include:
- Tearing lettuce
- Mixing a batter
- Pouring pre-measured oil or water into a bowl
- Turning the pages of the cookbook
- Snapping the ends off of beans
- Kneading dough
- Putting garbage in the garbage can
- Setting the table
- Cutting soft items (like fruit) with a dull knife
- Mix It Up! To a young child, nothing is funnier than something bizarre. And do you know what is strange? Breakfast for dinner. So whip up some pancakes (serve with fresh fruit or mini chocolate chips), eggs (make an omelet station so everyone can choose their fillings) or even French toast (try using different varieties of bread like banana or pumpkin) and serve with sausage or bacon and juice.
- Dress the Part If you think your little one is going to be joining you regularly in the kitchen, consider investing in an apron and even a chef's hat for him. (If you can get matching garb, that's even better.) Make a big deal about welcoming him into "your" space. And when the fun is done, be sure to make a fuss, complimenting your helper on what a great job he did.
- The younger you start your kids in the kitchen, the faster they'll learn good eating habits. Use fresh, healthy ingredients and talk about the different qualities each one possesses -- "These oranges have a lot of Vitamin C, which helps keep you from getting sick." "This broccoli has a lot of calcium, which is great for building strong bones."
- The number of skills kids will learn while cooking with you is amazing. Real life skills for sure, but also math and vocabulary. While you are working, try to reinforce these lessons -- talk about how important it is to follow the order of the recipe, count the number of ingredients your put into the bowl, explain new words and point out the difference in what you started out with as to what you ended up with. Even a mistake can be a learning experience as you can problem solve together.
- If you've got a picky eater introducing her to the kitchen may just be the push she needs. Most kids are more apt to eat something that they've had a hand in preparing, so whether you are breading chicken nuggets or whipping up a batch of pancakes (or ask if there's something she'd like to prepare), encourage her to taste her creation.
- The first thing you should do in the kitchen with your child is review some basic safety tips. Go over important rules -- the stove is hot, only a grown-up gets to use a knife and how hands should be washed before, during and after. Set a good example for your little one to follow -- make sure you use different cutting boards for raw chicken, beef, pork and seafood; turn off the oven when you are finished; keep all pot handles pointing to the rear of the stove and make sure appliances are never left in or near water. The most important rule? Clean up as you go along.
- Chances are your preschooler isn't reading yet. Make the recipes easy for her to understand by cutting out pictures of the basic ingredients so she'll know what needs to go in. Find photos from magazines, clip art or even taking pictures of the food yourself.
What You Need
- Kid-friendly recipes
- A step-stool to reach the counter, or a place to cook where kids can reach
- Tools that fit well in little hands
- Size-appropriate apron and hat